Citizens and elected officials share responsibilities to improve the quality of our communities. If we fail to provide positive economic opportunities, access to good schools, respect and care for the poor and justice under the law, we must each share the blame for not working together to improve the most vulnerable communities within our state.
A new year gives us fresh opportunities to act upon our individual responsibilities and to hold our elected officials accountable. We must seriously work together to improve our communities by addressing educational inequity, poverty and crime. The devastating effects of these interrelated conditions are particularly severe in rural areas like Halifax, Vance and Warren counties and in parts of urban counties such as Wake.
For many rural counties, a disturbing correlation exists between the lack of available employment opportunities and low educational performance. The N.C. Department of Public Instruction recently took control of the Halifax County School System because it repeatedly failed to adequately educate its students. Both Vance County schools and Warren County schools are among the lower ranked school districts within our state.
Years after the Leandro decision, low-wealth communities still lack the resources necessary for their school systems to perform at acceptable levels. The state’s constitution calls for equal education for all students. Are citizens engaged with these school systems by supporting and holding local and state officials accountable?
The poverty-crime link
Poverty rates in Halifax, Vance and Warren counties range between 25 percent and 38 percent of the population. The Budget and Tax Center of the N.C. Justice Center further notes that child poverty rates in these same counties were even higher than the adult population and ranged from 31 percent to 43 percent of all children. These data should motivate us to work harder to ensure that all of our children receive an excellent education and a brighter future.
Crime in Henderson decreased in 2015 yet the city is again ranked as second in violent and property crimes among “the Most Dangerous Cities of North Carolina.” Persons living in Henderson have a 1 in 10 chance of being the victim of a property crime. Residents who live in and care about this community must be fully engaged and advocate better schools and stronger crime prevention measures. These solutions go hand-in-hand.
Although it is popular to blame elected officials for the failures of our communities, we citizens share responsibility for failing to take appropriate action when needed. We should speak up and vote for what is in our individual and collective best interests. As citizens, we should make our expectations for an improved quality of life and safer communities known.
It is in our best interest that all residents in North Carolina’s towns, cities and counties have full access to economic opportunities to grow and that persistent poverty be addressed respectfully and with compassion. Preventing crime is not just a moral imperative: It ensures the continued prosperity of our beloved state.
This year, we will be immersed in a turbulent but critical election cycle. All citizens and elected officials, whether angry, concerned or even apathetic, have a vested interest in improving public schools and reducing poverty and crime rates within our communities. Let this be the election year that we vote in large numbers and in our collective interest.
Eva M. Clayton of Warrenton is a former U.S. congresswoman representing the 1st District.